Shootout At The OK Library

I got a disturbing email from the Columbus Metropolitan Library system this afternoon.  It wasn’t about fines, or overdue books, or anything like that.  Instead, it reported on a shooting that occurred at the Main Library yesterday afternoon.

columbus20main20library20shootingAccording to the Columbus Dispatch, there was a dispute between two guys in the study area on the second floor of the Main Library.  The second floor is a very nice space that is one of the recently refurbished areas that I reported on last summer.  The article reports that the two guys exchanged words, then one guy pulled out a gun and started shooting.  The other man was shot in the ankle and limped away, being chased by the shooter, until the shooter surrendered to library security.  He eventually was taken away by police.

A shooting, in a library?  How sad, and also disturbing, too.  Main Library is my nearby library branch of choice, because it has the greatest selection of books on the shelves, and I enjoy browsing and seeing whether anything strikes my fancy.  Main has always been a bit gritty, with more than its share of apparent homeless folks hanging around inside and outside, but a shooting?  That raises grittiness issues to a whole new level.

This is the kind of thing that many of us find unnerving about the prevalence of guns in our culture.  Two guys are sitting in a library, they start to argue, and suddenly things escalate out of control — and because one guy had a gun, he skipped the physical brawl step and just started shooting.  Weapons are barred in the library, but obviously that didn’t make a difference.  Fortunately, none of the other people who were in the library at the time got hit.  And I can’t help but think that, if Russell and Emily weren’t around, I might have been walking past the area where the confrontation occurred at the moment things spiraled into chaos.

I’ll continue to use Main — at least, I’m pretty sure I will — but I’m not going be able to enjoy the same kind of leisurely strolls through the shelves that I have enjoyed before.  I’ll keep a wary eye on everybody, and I’ll be looking to get in and out quickly.  Who knows whether that guy reading Sports Illustrated over there might be packing, and have a short fuse, to boot?

Primate Rights

A New York state appeals court has rejected a request to issue a writ of habeas corpus to free two chimpanzees who are kept in cages — one in a warehouse in Gloversville, New York, and the other in a storefront in Niagara Falls, New York.  The writ sought to have the primates moved from their cages to an animal sanctuary.

article-2034439-0dbb7fa500000578-543_306x338In the case, the New York courts were presented with expert evidence “that chimpanzees exhibit many of the same social, cognitive and linguistic capabilities as humans and therefore should be afforded some of the same fundamental rights as humans.”  In a nutshell, however, the court of appeals concluded — correctly, in my view — that the fact that chimpanzees exhibit some humanlike characteristics is simply not enough to make them “persons” in the eyes of the law.  The court reasoned that “[t]he asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions.”  And, the court added, the flip side of personhood would mean that chimpanzees could be held criminally accountable for killing or injuring humans — something that has not been done, obviously, because chimpanzees do not have moral culpability for such acts, nor do they have the capacity to understand the proceedings against then or to assist in their own defense, which is what courts typically look for in deciding whether a defendant is competent.

You can read the court of appeals decision here.

Although I think the law cannot recognize primates like chimpanzees as “people,” with all of the rights of people, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be afforded some rights, beyond being viewed as mere property.  The court of appeals’ decision summarizes expert evidence that indicates that chimpanzees have an impressive array of qualities that we associate with thinking beings, such as “recognizing themselves in reflections,” “setting and acting toward goals such as obtaining food,” “communicating about events in the past and their intentions for the future, such as by pointing or using sign language,” “protecting others in risky situations, such as when relatively strong chimpanzees will examine a road before guarding more vulnerable chimpanzees as they cross the road,” “making and using complex tools for hygiene, socializing, communicating, hunting, gathering, and fighting,” “counting and ordering items using numbers,” “showing concern for the welfare of others, particularly their offspring, siblings, and even orphans they adopt,” and “resolving conflicts” and “apologizing.”

At some point, we need to ask ourselves — do creatures that exhibit these kinds of qualities and characteristics really deserve to be put into cages at the whim of whoever purchases them?